April 20, 2009

Hitting the big time

Time Magazine made it to Mthatha! I swear, it is not as bad as this makes it out to be.

Which makes it all the stranger that the ANC has done so little to improve the region. Today much of the Eastern Cape is still typified by mud-walled, grass-roofed huts without running water, where boys ride horses, girls carry babies on their backs and families subsist on cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and maize. A new power grid has reached most homes — but supply is erratic. Most roads remain unpaved. In Mthatha, 74% of the population earns less than $150 a month and 43% are unemployed, according to a June 2008 report by the South African Medical Journal. In 2007, East London's Daily Dispatch newspaper revealed that poor maternity care at the city's Frere Hospital was resulting in around 200 stillborn babies every year — and that the corpses were being buried in mass paupers' graves. A tour of Mthatha General Hospital suggests conditions as grim: paint peels from rotten ceilings, the floors are filthy and in the casualty department, an old woman lies slumped in her wheelchair in a lake of urine.

Then there is the violence. Parents in Mthatha don't let their children walk to school for fear of robbery, or worse. The South African Medical Journal noted Mthatha's murder rate was 133 per 100,000 in 2005, twice as high as that in Colombia, and nearly three times the South African average. Walls and streetlights in the town's main drag, Nelson Mandela Drive, are plastered with posters offering "Safe Abortion, Same Day," "Quick and Safe Abortion, 3 Hours," even a free lottery ticket with every "100% guarantee, 2-hour" procedure. Nobu Sipoka, director of the Mthatha Child Abuse Resource Center, says there is no precise data on the incidence of child rape, but says she founded the center because anecdotal evidence from doctors suggested it was unusually high. "It's symptomatic of the unemployment and the poverty," she says. "This is not a happy town." An hour away in the village of Mvezo, where Mandela was born 90 years ago into a small gathering of huts on a narrow, windswept spur, the Mandelas' immediate neighbors are outspoken about their disillusionment with the ANC. "My life was better during apartheid," says Vincent Ntswayi, 53, who held a steady job in Johannesburg during white rule but has only been intermittently employed since. "Freedom turned out to be just a word. Real freedom, real power, that comes from money — and I haven't got any money."
I was driving through town today behind a convoy of trucks bearing "Vote ANC" signs. Most people were wildly cheering as it drove past. I'm not sure how many people like Mr. Ntswayi are out there.

The article also fails to note that Mandela very publicly endorsed Zuma.